Health: Diary of a marathon runner

There are some delicate subjects which should only be referred to in hushed tones. One of them is toilet training for a marathon. Anyone who has been running for any length of time will probably, at some point, have experienced what the Americans tautologically call the runner’s trots: the desire to head for the nearest isolated bush and relieve yourself.

All very well in the Rockies or Arizona desert, but uncomfortably public on The Mall or crossing Tower Bridge with a BBC camera on your tail. According to those who, for some reason, wanted to find out, about one in three marathon runners suffers from diarrhoea. The reason is pretty simple: running shakes up your insides. During a long jog, blood is diverted from your digestive system to your heart and muscles. Without enough blood, the gut won’t work normally. It is starved of oxygen, excess water is left in the intestines and eventually the gastrointestinal process breaks down, leading to cramps and diarrhoea.

Not pleasant. So how can you avoid it? An internet search throws up a few tips, not all of them altogether useful. One is to run in a park or an area which has a scattering of portable toilets. Genius.

Another says that if you feel something sort of coming on then slow your pace to a walk, breathe deeply and “think about something else, say, the writings of Nietzsche”. More bizarrely, there is this suggestion: “Carry a plastic bag, toilet paper and towelette (and take your trash with you).”

That’s the management side. There is also prevention. This is basically not eating or drinking certain things. Before the race, cut out caffeine and alcohol which irritate digestion and watch out for high-fibre carbohydrates. A banana is the best as it’s easily digestible and high in nutrients.

But if all that fails, there will be toilets every two miles of the marathon. They include a 440ft continuous urinal trough and three urinal trailers. Relief all round.

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